The history books will record a 16-point victory to the Western Bulldogs in their round eight match up. Their superior execution of skills in the tough, unfamiliar conditions were too much for their opponents, despite Brisbane playing better football for much of the game.
The first quarter saw the arrival of a star, Hugh McCluggage channelling a certain West Coast number three from the early 2000’s as he repeatedly thrust his team forward with clean clearances and driving runs. This was best illustrated as Judd McCluggage burst through a pack, cleanly swallowed the ball up off the ground at pace, broke the line and ended with a smart piece of play by McCarthy to Berry for a goal on the quarter time siren. McLuggage looked a cut above in the first quarter and served a fair warning that there is plenty to look forward to from him for Lions supporters.
Another young Lion, Eric Hipwood was prominent early, presenting well and outmarking his opponent on several occasions. His return of 0.5 in the first half was extremely costly in the wash up as the game might have been beyond the home side had he converted.
Developing Dog beanpole, Tim English was a late out, further handing the ascendency to Brisbane with Stef Martin seemingly due to cash in, but that was not the case as Jackson Trengove was handed the big task of quelling the influential Lion ruck. Trengove is no stranger to playing in the ruck, having been called on at numerous times in his Port days. He completely neutralised Brisbane’s advantage, along with some support from Zaine Cordy, finishing with 21 disposals, 27 hit outs, six tackles, six clearances, two rebound 50s and three Inside 50s in a stunning best on ground performance.
As alluded earlier the Dogs conversion was the key to the result, and may have been set up as early as the first quarter when Ed Richards snapped a goal from an impossible angle. That was then followed by the impressive Sam Lloyd who capitalised from a poor deliberate out of bounds call to snap another miracle goal to keep the dogs in touch. Lloyd seemed regenerated by the omission of Tory Dickson and roamed up to the wings collecting 19 disposals and 2.1 in an excellent outing. For transparency, the umpires paid four deliberate out of bounds for the day; only one was incorrect the other three being adjudicated exactly the way the rule should be adjudicated.
The Lions threatened to run away with the game in the second quarter after a strong mark to Daniel McStay and subsequent 50 metre penalty by captain Easton Wood. Just as the match was slipping away on the back of the amazing Judd McCluggage, and hard-nosed brilliance of Mitch Robinson, Daniel Rich made a schoolboy error at half back, allowing the Dogs to rush the ball forward and another fortuitous snap, this time to Macrae shifted momentum. A 15-point lead, which should have been more if not for Brisbane’s wayward kicking at goal, was soon evaporated and the Dogs took a surprising halftime lead as Aaron Naughton converted coolly from a tight angle after being well held by Harris Andrews.
The third quarter began with another awful skill error by the Lions. This time it was Lincoln McCarthy, who otherwise played a good game, at fault. The ball was transferred straight back to the Dogs end where the magnificent kicking skills of Matt Suckling were on full display as he clinically finished a tough shot on goal. Hipwood finally steered one straight through, and Robinson entered his nomination for goal of the year with an outrageous effort to run with the flight, mark at pace and slot a wonderful six-pointer from 55 metres out, but the absence of the first half Brisbane pressure allowed the Dogs to rack up a 20+ point lead at the last break.
Fagan switched McStay and Andrews for the final stanza, and his three quarter time address must have called for a greater physical presence as the momentum slowly switched back to the Lions, but after Hipwood again goaled, the clever Caleb Daniel intercepted a mark out of defence and set up the busy Naughton for a strong goal square mark and his third sealed the result.
The match played in regional Victoria looked to have a great atmosphere as a large, well rugged-up and vocal crowd squeezed into the ground, beside a circus tent adorned with dinosaurs. Yep, this is a professional sport.
The winners were best served by Trengove, Dunkley, Suckling, Lloyd, Macrae and Liberatore while the vanquished were led by Judd McCluggage, Zorko, Robinson and Hodge.
Top 5 – Most watchable players
Chris Judd Hugh McCluggage. The Brisbane youngster is quickly stamping his class on the competition and would be in AA calculations at the 1/3 mark of the season. Has incredible ability below his knees and is superbly balanced. He’s moving into the select group of players you’d pay to watch.
Matt Suckling. This is a big call, especially considering luminaries such as Jason Akermanis, Nathan Buckley and Darren Jarman have graced the field in the past 3 decades, but I believe Suckling to be the best field kick of the AFL era. Sure he might not be as prolific as those three champions, and also prone to some brain fades, but his vision and ability to execute the impossible sets him apart. The other three could pierce zone defences with daisy cutters or launch over set ups spanning 60m on both legs, but Suckling stands alone at setting up play that didn’t exist prior to him believing it could. A joy to watch.
Marcus Bontempelli. The conditions were slippery and blustery for 43 players on the ground today, but for the future Bulldog skipper it was like he was playing at Marvel on his own. Not an outstanding game by any means, but every time he was near the ball he was clean and sent the ball to his team’s advantage. A big contested mark and excellent set shot turned the tide in the second quarter.
Mitch Robinson. The former Carlton bad boy has matured and is now an elite AFL player. Another three-goal outing, combined with bravery and smarts in spades, Robinson did all he could to bring victory to his team. Robinson attacks the ball as fiercely as anyone in the league and has added consistency and polish to what is now a pretty exciting package.
Jack Macrae. Will rarely make the highlights reel but his quiet efficiency and extraordinary understanding of angles make him one of coach Luke Beveridge’s most valuable players. Once more, he racked up 28 disposals and eight clearances, but it is his ability to put teammates into the clear that makes him a must watch player.
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